PR Blunders: What Not to Do and How To Recover From Them

We’ve seen our fair share of PR blunders from businesses, politicians, and celebrities – even non-profits. How about the huge faux pas by the Susan G. Komen Foundation when it decided pull funding for breast cancer screenings from Planned Parenthood? Or Chik-fil-A’s stance against gay marriage? Or the JetBlue debacle? How about Britney Spears shaving her head in public? Oops, they did it again!

These are just a few that stand out in recent history, and for the most part, all have recovered and definitely learned from their potentially dire mistakes. Here is an idea of what not to do and how to recover:

DON’T go dark and refuse to comment to the media. Reporters are very resourceful individuals. They know how to dig around and find the information they need, especially in the age of social media. Reporters can simply go to an organization’s or individual’s Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and glean information. What you say on social networks doesn't stay on social networks and can easily end up in the New York Times or NBC Nightly News.

On the contrary, DO prepare a response. Be as transparent as possible. State your position clearly and succinctly, and stick to your message! Make sure everyone in your organization understands the message and is on the same page.

Chick-fil-A actually scored PR points by using social media as a platform to address each issue with its own statement on its own turf. The company gave its audience a voice, whether they agreed with the company’s stance or not.

DON’T waste any time. The moment you suspect that you’ve just made a major PR mistake, DO start putting a plan of action together so you can get ahead of the news and be prepared to address it. Be prepared for the media to dig up other items that can enhance their story (did the CEO happen to have an extra marital affair?) A PR blunder could be a complete disaster, so disaster preparedness is key to overcome one.

DON’T assume anything you say is “off the record” (remember Mitt Romney’s 47% comment?) DO think before you speak and know that as a public figure or organization, everything you say is fair game for the media. If you don’t want to see it in the news, don’t say it.

DON’T fail to do your research when using social media for a campaign. McDonald’s got into all sorts of trouble when it launched a Twitter campaign to promote the hard work of its potato suppliers and employees. Unfortunately, unhappy customers used the hashtag McDonald’s created for this campaign as a way to complain about their negative experience with the company.

What McDonald’s should have done and what you need to DO is conduct research prior to launching a campaign. Do a SWOT analysis to see how the messages and campaign resonate with your audience.

DON’T go where you don’t belong. Chick-fil-A learned this lesson the hard way. The company should have never put itself in the middle of a heated political issue. Rather DO stick to neutral messaging that directly relates to your product or service. You don’t want to alienate an audience or demographic, especially one as numerous and vocal as gay marriage advocates. Check-fil-A’s statement after the SCOTUS ruling was key: “We believe in providing great-tasting food and genuine hospitality to everyone — so our focus is on running an exceptional restaurant company. Therefore, we are leaving political decisions and discussions to others and focusing only on what we do best.”

Finally, if you’re like Brit Brit, you want to DO whatever you can to come out smelling like a rose. You want people to like you again, trust and support your company or brand again, so you have to start looking good again. The Susan G. Komen Foundation’s PR disaster recovery efforts were geared towards focusing the public’s attention its good works by bringing forth women who have benefited from the programs funded by the foundation.

Fortunately for the likes of JetBlue and Chick-fil-A; these companies have enough loyal followers who aren’t going to let a little PR blunder get in the way of a cheap flight or a great chicken sandwich. And Britney. She looks good- no more crazy pink wigs. She has a hit record; she was on a hit show. She is a media darling again and with these simple tips, you can be too, no matter how badly you screw up.

Kelly ReevesComment